The advantages of Montana are the lack of crowds, good snow conditions, epic off piste, and good skier infrastructure (lifts, grooming, skiable acreage, etc). The disadvantages are the bitterly cold weather (especially BM), and the lack of amenities (restaurants, apres ski, etc) compared to CO, UT, and especially the Alps. Bozeman has much more to offer than Kalispell, and is the home of many great climbers and ski-alpinists, including the late Alex Lowe. Outside Magazine rates it as one of the better mid-sized cities to live in for those who enjoy snow sports and the great outdoors. Therefore, I'd probably head there over Kalispell, but Kalispell's access to Glacer National Park is enchanting-especially for summer activities. Also, Kalispell is much less expensive than Bozeman with respect to real estate--another issue you seem interested in.
The Banff, Jasper, Kicking Horse area just over the boarder has a lot more amenities than Montana and the dollar goes a long way there, but you ain't going to escape EXTREME cold in that part of Canada.
Another drawback to MT versus UT or CO for the DC-based skier is the airline situation. There are no direct flights from the DC area to Kalispell and few (if any) to Bozeman. This means 1-2 transfers to get from WAS to the area. Most of my Expedia searches indicated that I would spend 7-8 hours flying and waiting around in airports to get to Kalispell. For that, I'd rather fly direct from IAD to Zurich (a 7 hours and 20 minute flight) or perhaps go to BC and ski Whistler.
Skiing Magazine did a good profile on Montana a few issues back. Might be worth seaching that web site as well as www.skimag.com for background. Also, http://www.goski.com/ and www.ski-guide.com have some candid reader reviews of the resorts in MT.
I want to be able to purchase a place in a location where I would enjoy visiting regularly for a week or two a year. I ski and I kayak, and I enjoy other outdoor activities, such as hiking and mountain biking. I'm not interested particularly in any special amenities, although the town of Bozeman intrigues me. I'm also interested to know what the economy and the character of the town of Big Sky is like, i.e. is it a tacky resort destined for nowheresville, or could it be the next Vail? Any other feedback or just random thoughts is greatly appreciated!
One last issue: altitude. BM is further north but at a lower altitude (4500 base/7000 foot summit). Big Sky's base is at 6800 feet and the summit rests at 11,500 feet. If you are sensitive to high altitude, BM might be more pleasant.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 02-20-2003).]
Last year we took a week prior to Big Sky and visited three small "mom and pop" ski destinations in South West Montana: Discovery, Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Maverick Mountain. Unbelievable! Exceptionally friendly people, very inexpensive skiing, some of the most beautiful scenery, and best skiing in the country. Try http://www.skimt.com/dhski.htm
In this area, your are (literally) in the fly fishing capital of the world. The famed Madison River runs thru Ennis and the Gallatin flows next to Big Sky. Trout in thest rivers are counted in the thousands per mile! See "Flyfisher's Guide to Montana" by Greg Thomas.
I also thought that this would be a great place to invest in ski property. It basically comes down to what you want. If you want an apres-ski destination where your property has rental income potential, Big Sky is the place. If you want just great skiing at an affordable price, there are many alternatives in South West Montana. In any event, you can't go wrong and I highly recommend you go look for yourself.
Good luck, Marty
I appreciate all the comments, folks. Sally